Free Exhibit Resources

Exhibit Resources from POW!

The Great Big Exhibit Resource List

A constantly updated compendium of resources for museum design and exhibit fabrication (including websites and contact information.)
>> view resource

Donor Recognition Examples

This is a PDF of examples of Donor Walls and other recognition devices in museums that were featured in an ExhibiTricks blog post. It's a BIG file so be patient as it loads.
>> view resource

Cheap Exhibit Ideas from the ASTC Exhibit Cheapbooks

Here are a few examples of the types of simple, inexpensive exhibit ideas to be found in each of the three volumes of The Exhibit Cheapbooks which I originated and edited.
>> view resource

POW! in The New York Times

A nice review of a children's interactive art exhibition I created for the Nassau County Museum of Art.
>> view resource

Downloadable Exhibit Articles by Paul Orselli

"Producing Great Exhibits on a (Not So Great) Budget"

My article from the January/February 2014 issue of ASTC's Dimensions magazine. Some simple, inexpensive ways to add to your exhibits program.
>> download the PDF now

"Green Design Nuts and Bolts"

An article jam-packed with resources and techniques to help you expand your green exhibit design toolkit.
>> download the PDF now

"Million Dollar Pencils and Duct Tape: Some Thoughts on Prototyping"

Concrete examples and tips about how to move through each phase of the exhibit prototyping process.
>> download the PDF now

"Good Things Come In Small Packages" (Small Museums Article)

Lessons learned from a quarter century of working with a variety of different types and sizes of museums.
>> download the PDF now

"Do You Really Need a 3D Printer, and Other Essential Questions You Need to Ask about a Museum’s Makerspace"

5 questions to consider when creating (or updating!) a Makerspace or design-based learning environment at your museum.
>> download the PDF now

ExhibiTricks blog

  • Expectations and Exhibitions

    Any trip to a great museum city (like Washington DC) is a "moveable feast" of sorts. 

    I was delighted to gather with my fellow members of The Museum Group recently for our winter business meeting in Washington and to go on a museum-viewing spree.

    In particular, three museum experiences really stood out: the new Museum of the Bible (MoB), the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), and a temporary show at the Renwick Gallery.

    Great Expectations (Part One)

    Entry ceiling video panels at MoB
    I have to say that I was sort of dreading my visit to the Museum of the Bible (MoB) a bit, mostly because of the political views of the Hobby Lobby family that funded the museum, but also due to a number of news stories outlining questionable practices used by MoB to obtain artifacts.  But, to be honest, I felt as a museum professional I "had" to visit one of Washington's newest and largest museums.

    And (spoiler alert!) overall I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by my visit to the Museum of the Bible.  Overall, the architecture and exhibitry were top-notch.  I didn't feel like I was being preached to at all. It was easy to see that large sums of money were spent on the museum through technology and the fit and finish of exhibit furniture.

    Even the security checkpoints were designed to be visually appealing.

    MoB Security Checkpoint at Entrance

    Almost as if deflecting concerns about the provenance and authenticity of artifacts, MoB signage and exhibitry seemed to go out of the way to highlight issues for the public.  If the authenticity of some scroll fragments were unclear, labels clearly stated that.  Similarly, a temporary show called "People of the Land" made repeated mention that all the show's artifacts were on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

    People of the Land Entry Panel

    Central exhibitions like the "History of the Bible" galleries were quite large and jam-packed with artifacts, videos, and interactive elements.

    History of the Bible interior exhibitry

    Of course, as with any newly-opened museum, the Museum of the Bible was still sorting some things out.  Certain technologies (like all the touch tables in the lobby) were not yet operational and some artifacts were not yet in place. Many of the historical videos had the worst false beards I've ever seen -- like cotton balls stuck on the actor's faces! (Maybe it's a Hobby Lobby thing ... or an artifact of HD video.) But those are small quibbles.

    Worst fake beards -- ever!

    My large quibbles about the Museum of the Bible involve the "dumbing down" of content or (in my view) underestimating the audience.  Fortunately, this only happened in a couple of spots inside a very large museum.

    One example of underestimating the audience was in the "Drive Thru History" theater, an annoyingly simplistic jaunt through biblical history (Jerusalem! Rome!) with matching vehicles --- a jeep in the Middle Eastern desert and a Ferarri(?) for zipping around outside the Roman Coliseum.

    "Drive Thru" the history of the Bible!

    But the absolute worst area in MoB was the "Children's Area."  Imagine a biblical-themed Chuck E. Cheese designed by a color-blind carnival game inventor and you will get a sense of it.  (Throw balls representing Daniel into the Lions' mouths! Push the Temple Pillars down like Samson!)

    MoB Children's Area

    It really is disappointing that the Museum of the Bible blew the opportunity of the Children's Area, especially since so many families with children were clearly visiting, and also when there are wonderful and thoughtful biblically-themed experiences and exhibits (like the Skirball Center's Noah's Ark) that could have served as better models.

    Despite my reservations, overall I found the Museum of the Bible a good museum experience --- definitely worth a visit while in DC.

    Great Expectations (Part Two)

    To be fair, my expectations for the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) were set VERY high.  Every one of my museum colleagues who had visited had great things to say, and I had read many glowing accounts in the press that made clear that NMAAHC was a "pilgrimage" site for many visitors.

    Overall (spoiler alert!) I enjoyed my NMAAHC visit very much.  In fact, I stayed engaged for an entire day inside the museum without leaving (I ate lunch inside the Cafe.)

    The Museum is conceptually and physically divided into two "chunks." The three floors below the Lobby/Entry floor focus on Slavery starting in the 1400s, then through aspects of Freedom, Segregation, Civil Rights, and on into Modern Times (ending with a display of President Obama and his family.)

    I did not take any pictures on the bottom three floors, because for me, personally, I was too absorbed in the experience.  It also felt (again, for me personally) obtrusive to other visitors' experiences to take pictures on these floors.  There was a lot of sobering material to try and absorb --- slave shackles, photos of abuse. 

    The woman at the Information Desk told me (quite accurately) that I would need at least two hours or so to move through the lower three floors.  It was clear that some visitors were easily spending twice that amount of time in what are collectively called the "History Galleries."

    After a very tasty lunch in the Sweet Home Cafe, I heard some visitors remarking that music legend Quincy Jones was giving a talk that afternoon and seats may be available.  Luckily, I got into the talk and was treated to some great stories by Mr. Jones.  (I'm hoping the video of his talk will show up online somewhere.)

    After the Quincy Jones talk (part of the NMAAHC's extensive programmatic events) I made my way to the upper galleries --- where I did take pictures!  The upper galleries revolve around topics of Community and Culture.  Although at all times you can't help but feel enveloped by David Adjaye's thoughtful architectural design as you move around the upper floors.

    Two objects especially spoke to me during my explorations of the Culture Galleries, both coincidentally called "Mothership."

    The first was a version of George Clinton's "Mothership" from his tours with Parliament Funkadelic.  I just really enjoy P-Funk's music so the object is particularly iconic for me.

    The Mothership!

    Another "Mothership" I encountered was a piece by artist Jefferson Pinder constructed from reclaimed tin panels found in Baltimore and fashioned into a space capsule.  It was breathtaking!

    Another Mothership
    Of course, given the way that the National Museum of African American History and Culture has continued to resonate with such large, diverse audiences in its first year of operation, NMAAHC may be its own "Mothership" of sorts.   Definitely on the "must see" list if you are visiting Washington, DC.

    No Expectations

    I had absolutely no expectations as I wandered into the Renwick Gallery to kill an hour or two before dinner.  Little did I realize that any absolutely fascinating temporary exhibition called "Murder is Her Hobby" was tucked inside.

    The exhibition shows the work of Frances Glessner Lee, who created a series of miniature vignettes (that she called "Nutshells") of murder scenes to help train detectives and coroners.  Who knew this could be the basis for such an engaging show?

    Most of the exhibit labels read like a mini murder mystery describing each "Nutshell."

    Visitors were intently focused and carefully observing minute details of every installation.  I can't help wondering what lessons (especially for Art Museums) could be learned from this exhibition.

    The Renwick also provided (untethered!) flashlights to allow people to focus even more carefully on particular details within each Nutshell scene.

    There was also a (now seemingly ubiquitous) "Talk Back" board in the exhibition, where people left (often very detailed) thoughts about one of the Nutshell installations>

    The exhibition about Frances Glessner Lee's work, as well as my visits to NMAAHC and the Museum of the Bible, made me reflect on the inherent power and wonder found in museum experiences --- whether we are expecting them or not.

    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

    P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)
  • Don't Stop

    Working in the museum world can sometimes feel overwhelming. Days filled with administrative trivia, visitor complaints, and endless "to do" lists can, at times, wear even the most dedicated museum workers down.

    Don't stop.

    Find one thing today, even a little thing, that will make your museum better, and make you feel better about working there.

    It could be a Social Media post about a fun new Education program.  A tweak to an exhibit to make it move from good to great.  Ordering a new entry mat to replace that worn out old one by the front door. Sincerely complimenting a co-worker on a job well done. A phone call to reconnect with a community partner.

    All those little things add up --- for you, and your visitors.

    Don't stop.

    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

    P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)
  • Giving Thanks and Thanksgiving

    As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S. it seemed like a perfect time to re-post one of the most popular ExhibiTricks articles on a topic directly related to thankfulness. Donor recognition inside museums always provides design challenges (and opportunities!)

    I hope this post provides creative inspiration and serves as a reminder of the many things we all have to be thankful for.   Enjoy!

    Most donor recognition installations in museums are really ways to say thanks.  And who could argue with that?

    But you can thank someone with the equivalent of a cheap mass-produced card you grabbed on your way home, or with the donor recognition version of a homemade loaf of bread accompanied by a carefully chosen book inscribed to the recipient.

    Last month I asked museum folks for images of interesting and thoughtful examples of donor recognition.  I received an avalanche of images --- many more than I'll include in this post, so I've gathered all the images that I've received into a free PDF available for download from the POW! website.

    Just click on the "Free Exhibit Resources" link near the center-top of any page on the website, and you'll see an entire collection of free goodies, including the newly added link called "Donor Recognition Examples."  Once you click on the link you'll get the PDF of images. (Be patient --- it's a BIG file.)

    So what sorts of images and examples of donor recognition did I receive?  They fell into several larger categories, namely:

    • Frames and Plaques

    • Walls and Floors

    • Genre Specific

    • Mechanical/Interactive

    • Interesting Materials

    • Digital Donor Devices

    So let's take each of the six categories and show a few examples of each.


    I'm sure you've seen lots of bad examples of this donor recognition approach, but there is a lot to be said for the simplicity (and creative twists!) that can be employed using this technique.

    The image at the top of this post is a nice example of "helping hands" (but still essentially plaques) in this category from the Chicago Children's Museum.

    I like the use of colors and the physical arrangements in the following two examples. The first pair of images comes from the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh (with bonus colored shadows!)

    The next is a sert of back-lit elements designed by Skolnick A+D Partnership for the Children's Museum of Virginia --- The entire unit is essentially one big lightbox!

    Light is also used as a strong element in the image below from Macalester College.  The folks from Blasted Art used Rosco's Lite Pad product to create the glowing text.

    Lastly, I like this simple example from the MonDak Heritage Center.  Just frames, but it does the job nicely.


    Sometimes donor recognition wants to be BIG, in an architectural sense, so interior or exterior walls are used  --- and sometimes even floors!

    Here are two exterior wall examples that stood out.  The first from the Creative Discovery Museum

    And the second from the Oakland Museum.  They are both colorful and animate nicely what would otherwise be a big blank wall.

     Here's a nice interior wall from Discovery Gateway, in Salt Lake City

    Each of the pieces is back-laminated graphics on acrylic.  (Here's a detail.)

    Of course, even the best-laid donor recognition plans can get circumvented by operational issues!

    And lastly, here's a floor example from The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History.  It's the Periodic Table with donors in each element.


    Several people sent examples of genre specific donor recognition designs.  A popular motif is to use collection objects or images, especially in the case of Natural History Museums.

    Here is the Specimen Wall from the California Academy of Sciences.  It's an elegant  low-tech solution that features specimen reproductions encased in laminated glass. The wall was conceived by Kit Hinrichs and realized in collaboration with Kate Keating Associates, with fabrication by Martinelli Environmental Graphics and glass by Ostrom Glassworks.

    Here's a clever use of old school tabletop jukeboxes to recognize donors to radio station WXPN put together by Metcalfe Architecture & Design in Philadelphia.


    In the same way that interactive exhibits are fun and memorable, donor recognition can be too!

    Gears are a popular motif in this regard.  The first image (Grateful Gears) is from an installation at the Kentucky Science Center, while the second is from the Madison Children's Museum.


    Sometimes the design element that gets people to stop and actually read the donor names are the unusual materials that the donor recognition piece is made of. If the materials relate to the institution itself, so much the better!

    This first image comes from the San Francisco Food Bank

    The next is from the Museum Center at 5ive Points, in Cleveland Tennessee which has a strong history of copper mining.  So this intricate donor recognition piece is made from copper!

    I love this clever use of miniature doors and windows at the Kohl Children's Museum.  You can open doors and windows to reveal additional information about donors.

    The last entry from this section is the truly striking three-dimensional "Donor Tree" from the Eureka Children's Museum in the UK.


    As with all museum installations, digital technology plays an increasing role --- even in Donor Devices.

    One unit that stood out was this digital donor recognition device at the National  Historic Trails Center that solicits donations in real-time and puts up digital "rocks" on the rock wall screen of different sizes --- depending on the size of your donation, of course!  A really neat idea that beats a dusty old donation box,  hands down.

    As I mentioned earlier, these images are really the tip of the iceberg.  So please check out the entire PDF of all the images I received by heading over to the "Free Exhibit Resources" section of my website.

    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

    P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)
  • Unpacking My Museum Trip To China

    I just returned from Beijing, China where I was invited to present lectures and workshops around the theme of "Developing Engaging Museum Exhibitions."

    The program was coordinated by the ICOM International Training Centre for Museum Studies (ICOM-ITC), housed at the Palace Museum in Beijing, and is a collaboration between ICOM, ICOM China, and the Palace Museum

    The Palace Museum --- nice spot for a workshop!

    As is the custom of ICOM-ITC, about half of the program participants were museum professionals based in China, while the participants from outside China came from such countries as Iran, Zambia, Colombia, and Armenia.

    I was one of two international lecturers (and the only participant from the U.S.) My workshops focused on Prototyping, Interactive Exhibit Experiences, and Exhibit Evaluation. I was ably joined by the energetic and engaging Lucimara Letelier, an independent museum professional from Brazil.  Lucimara covered topics related to Museum Marketing, Branding, and Audience Development.

    Lucimara in action.

    Since I am writing this post just after a 24-hour burst of airplane and airport travel, I'm still processing my experiences in China (and still a little jet-lagged!) but here are some of my initial impressions:

    "Engaging" means many things in museums  
    We often think of exhibits being "engaging" through hands-on interactives or the integration of technology, but audience "engagement" begins even before visitors enter your museum. Lucimara stressed the importance of "The Five Ps" when it comes to museum marketing and engaging audiences: Price, Place, Product, People, and Promotion. 

    The term "prototyping" doesn't translate well
    It helps if everyone shares a common understanding of the terms you are using --- especially in a workshop filled with museum folks from around the world!  It became apparent in my first talk that the term "prototyping" didn't translate very well, so we re-branded prototyping as "trying things out."

    Trying out a prototype.

    Museum people share common challenges
    It was a pleasure to work with such enthusiastic and curious people during my ICOM-ITC presentations.  It was gratifying to share common challenges (and encouragement and ideas) with such a far-flung group.  A great strength of the museum business is the willingness of museum folks to share with each other.

    China is in the midst of a museum boom
    I was really struck by the tremendous level of support that the Chinese government provides to the museum sector. Not only does this support translate to museums and museum projects spread throughout the country, but over 87% of the 4246 Museums in China are admission free.

    As another example of this museum boom, I was told that in the next few years they will add over 300 new science centers in China!

    Inside the HUGE Capital Museum in Beijing

    You can do a lot in a short time ... if you focus!
    A surprising aspect of focused workshop time (and also working with outside consultants!) is that once we are removed from the seemingly constant distractions of the museum workplace, we can accomplish a surprising amount of work in a relatively short period of time.  

    In my workshops we created exhibit prototypes, developed interactive exhibit approaches, tried some visitor evaluation techniques inside one of the Palace Museum's exhibition galleries, and rounded out the week by developing a pop-up exhibition!

    Of course, my trip to China wasn't ALL work! A wonderful aspect of the ICOM-ITC workshop was the opportunity to tour the Palace Museum (known as "The Forbidden City" to many Westerners) and important cultural sites like The Great Wall as a group.  

    The workshop participants also got to socialize together by visiting different parts of Beijing together at night.  This work/play combination really created a great group dynamic and forged important professional ties.  I feel like I have a new group of international museum colleagues.

    Traveling to other countries (and museums!) helps provides perspective on our own life and work.  Being a part of ICOM-ITC was a wonderful professional and personal experience that I will never forget!  

    At The Great Wall!

    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

    P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)
  • A Guest Post From The High Seas!

    Charissa Ruth is a freelance educator based in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently working onboard the JOIDES Resolution, a scientific research vessel, as an Education and Outreach Officer. Before sailing the seas, she was working in various museums and cultural institutions teaching school, afterschool, and family programs. She'd like to try her hand at stand-up comedy sometime in the future so if you've got really good jokes you can send them her way.

    Charissa was kind enough to share this guest post from onboard the JOIDES Resolution:

    The towering structure in the middle is the derrick which stabilizes
    the pipe as we drop it down and collect core samples. 

    It’s a different world living on a moving, floating structure. On an impeccably blue and white background, you can see the crew decked in red moving here and there, constantly at work. From my office window, I can see the ocean, I can see the drilling derrick towering over the rest of the ship as guardian, and I can see the catwalk where the scientists first meet the new core.

    We are a small city at sea. We have scientists from all over the world --- Brazil, Australia, USA, China, Japan, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Korea, and Italy. The bulk of conversation happens in English but you can hear snippets of accents and languages from all over. It reminds me of Brooklyn, of home.

    Sometimes it can feel pretty lonely or isolating out here.
    There are also picnic tables for people to sit at for
    our weekly outside BBQ (weather permitting). 

    Work is happening around the clock. We all have twelve-hour work shifts and everyone is allotted some daylight hours and some nighttime hours in which to keep progress happening. There’s a pleasant rhythm at work. Meal times happen four times a day, with cookie time or break time twice a day. People are waking up and going to bed at all hours of the day. “Good Morning” replaces “Hello” as the common greeting.

    It’s been humbling to learn the rudimentary tenets of geology from geologists. All I knew of rocks and fossils is what I remember from picking up and playing with them outside as a kid. In a way, I feel I have regressed back to an infant stage. Everything is new, I feel overwhelmed at times with the amount of new information, and I’m learning to speak a new language slowly but surely.

    Once the cores reach room temperature, we split them open to look at. 
    Here we see half of the cores laid out for observation and 
    we are looking at some black basalt. 

    One of my major responsibilities as an Education and Outreach Officer on the JOIDES Resolution is to facilitate live broadcasts to classrooms all around the world. (You can find out more information and learn how to sign up a classroom here.) Just this week, we’ve talked to students in Brazil, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Later this month, we have groups from Japan, South Korea, and Germany. Learning to speak this new scientific language, I now become a translator for students young and old.

    We talk about plate tectonics, rock layers, fossils so small you need a powerful microscope to see them. We talk about what it’s like to live on a scientific research vessel with 120 souls onboard. We talk about how they, the students, can make their way into this field and maybe one day onto this ship. The message is clear - there are still places in this world where you can be an explorer and discoverer.  

    Thanks Charissa for sharing your shipboard experiences with ExhibiTricks readers, and good luck with the remainder of your voyage!


    The ship lit up at night while still in port in Hobart.
    Photo credit: Bill Crawford

    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

    P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)